Dr. Ikraam is a neonatologist who migrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1989. He lives in Ellicott City, MD, and runs his own hospital in nearby Baltimore. He is an active member of Muslim community and serves at the board of local Islamic Center as well as the Advisory Council of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), one of the largest American Muslim Organization. Almost all of his extended family is settled in the U.S. and they all are very religious and practicing Muslims.
I spent last Thanksgiving weekend with his family and it was a unique experience of seeing and interacting with a typical immigrant American Muslim family. We discussed the issues and problems of Muslims living in the U.S. at length and I learnt a great deal from his views and experiences in the U.S.
During my stay in Ellicott City I visited the local Islamic Center with my host. It was weeks after Donald Trump was elected as President and the Muslim community across the U.S. was in a state of uncertainty and fear. I attended the Islamic Center’s board meeting where a proposal of hoisting a U.S. flag outside the Center was being discussed. The aim of the proposal was to express “patriotism” and avoid any “backlash” as a mosque was attacked just few days after the Presidential election.
After much debate, the proposal was rejected on the ground that Muslims do not need to prove their patriotism to anyone and the hoisting a flag following the election victory of Trump will show that Muslims are doing it out of fear. To me it was a sign of Muslims’ confidence about their identity as Americans which, according to them, doesn’t need a ‘certificate’ from anyone else.
During my one-year-long stay in the U.S. I witnessed dozens of such examples of confidence, resilience and resolve of the American Muslims. They have adopted the American lifestyle and they are living the American dream as much as any other community in the U.S.
Dr. Ikraam has three kids: two daughters and a son and all were born in the U.S. They identified themselves as the Americans and not as Pakistani Americans. To my surprise, they told me they are Americans first and then are Muslims. It is a strange concept for a Muslim from a Muslim-majority nation like Pakistan where we usually put our Muslim identity before our nationality.
And it’s not just a story of Dr. Ikraam’s family. I met hundreds of Pakistani and other Muslim immigrant families during my stay in the U.S. who’s second and third generations associate themselves more with the American culture and society than with the societies their parents and grand-parents migrated from.
These second- and third-generation immigrants are more frequent in English than their native languages. They play American football, baseball and basketball more than Cricket, Hockey and other sports popular in their native countries. They wear jeans and t-shirts and celebrate New Year, Thanksgiving and Patriots Day. They listen hip-hop, pop, rock and R&B; they love burger and pizza more than the traditional curries full of spices from Asia or Middle East; and they love Hollywood movies. What else do you think they need to do to be more American?
Mosques have always been the centers of Muslims’ community life. American Muslims have built their mosques following the model of the churches in the U.S. Mosques in the U.S. are more of a community center than a place of worship. Islamic Centers throughout the U.S. have libraries, play areas, basketball courts and meeting rooms. They organize Sunday schools, provide guidance on family matters, conduct training courses and workshops, and serves as the hub of all social, welfare and community activities. It is an American model that is alien for most of the Muslim majority countries where Muslims go to mosques only for prayer. In these American mosques, Imams deliver the sermons in English, and not in Arabic or Urdu or Turkish.
Founding these Islamic centers was a conscious decision of immigrant American Muslims. Until 1990s majority of immigrant Muslims in the U.S. especially Pakistani Muslims used to send their charity back to their native countries where it was mainly used to build and run mosques, religious schools and help poor and needy. But as their second generation was born and grew up in the U.S. they realized that they need religious institutions in the U.S. more than any other place in the world. This is when they vigorously started investing their charities in building Islamic centers and other religious institutions and organizations throughout the U.S.
Muslims in the U.S. now consult American Muslim scholars and Imams to seek guidance who have developed their own system of jurisprudence. This system is a lot different from the mainstream and traditional schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence which were formed and evolved keeping the needs of Muslim-majority societies in view. I was surprised when I came to know that non-Arab American Muslims’ preferred English translations of Quran are different from the ones popular in non-Arab Muslim countries.
Muslims are serving in almost every field and profession in the U.S including military. According to Pentagon there are around 4000 Muslim troops currently serving the U.S. military. Many Muslim soldiers died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in last one and half decade. Muslims are active in politics and community activities, too, around the U.S.
I recently attended ICNA-MAS 42nd Annual Convention held in Baltimore, MD. It is one of the largest annual gatherings of Muslims in North America and this year almost 30,000 Muslims from around the U.S. attended the three-day event. Almost 90 percent of the sessions were held in English where the panelists, young and old alike, introduced themselves as Americans and insisted on their American identity.
The convention was a great opportunity for me to learn about American Muslims. I witnessed myself how deeply the roots of American lifestyle and culture are among Muslims and how much they have evolved themselves as Americans. Though many Muslim women wear hijab and many Muslim men grow beard and they might have a different skin color but they think like Americans, they talk like Americans and they introduced themselves as Americans. This is the power of American culture and values and this is what makes America great!